Last week, I received an email from a former softball player of mine. She is in her senior year of college – her last semester before student teaching. She’s one of those kids that you knew was going to do something special with her life. A hard worker, a team player, a great attitude – I mean, you have to admit – this is the perfect recipe for a successful teacher. Anyway, back to the email. For one of her classes, she needed responses to a series of questions asking for advice for new teachers. Advice on the challenges of working in education today, advice on working with challenging students, advice on how to communicate with parents, etc. As I was typing the responses to her questions, I was inspired to write this post. If you’re reading this as a teacher in Kansas, this may apply more to you than if you teach in a state where the governor actually cares about appropriately funding public education. I digress – I will try not to bird walk too much in this post. Alas, now we begin my open letter to new and future teachers.
Welcome to the most challenging, gut-wrenching, heart-pouring, amazing, rewarding, fantastic jobs known to mankind. You have chosen a profession that many don’t understand, yet try to judge constantly. We are in a sad place in public education right now. It’s becoming more difficult to retain teachers in the political and economical environment that our state has created, and the ones who have stayed feel like they take blow after blow from the statehouse. The work keeps getting bigger, more complicated, more technological, more… Common Core. And the pay keeps decreasing. And decreasing. Cuts are being made. Job security is a thing of the past. Programs are disappearing. Fees are increasing. Class sizes are maxed out. I could go on and on about the negative things happening in our state right now in regards to public education. But if you pay any kind of attention to the news, you knew this already. And you chose to teach anyway.
I commend you for that, and I urge you, as time goes by – remember that. Remember what it was that made you want to teach anyway. Was it to make a difference? To spread your love of learning and of your content? Was it because you feel like you have a gift? The gift of teaching? Do you have this innate ability to create amazing lesson plans that you know will engage students from the minute they walk in, to the last second they are in your room? Was it because you absolutely love kids and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else with your life? Hold on to that passion. Whatever it was that made you decide to take this crazy leap into this great profession. Hold it close. Guard it. Keep it near your heart. Live it every day.
Because teaching is hard. Really, really hard. I think everyone in their first year or two of teaching asks themselves, “Is it worth it?” Most of us quickly shake that off, and might even feel a little ashamed for thinking that, because we know that yes, it is definitely worth it. The rest? Well, they either discover that teaching is not for them and they leave, or they keep on teaching without passion. My hope for the latter is that they find that passion, find that spark, and give it the ol’ college try.
So what makes teaching today so difficult? Let’s start with the obvious. You know the saying, “I didn’t get into this profession for the money!” It’s true. And you know what? It’s hard being poor. My first year of teaching, I lived at home with Mom and Dad for a year. No bills, not rent, no nada. And I was still poor. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad.) For whatever reason, I decided I would move out after a year. Retrospect is 20/20 – I should have ridden that gravy train for a lot longer. And boy – I thought I was poor while living at home?! Now I owned a house?! My husband and I – we know what it’s like to go paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard.
What else makes being a teacher so difficult? Law makers. People who have never been an educator or a part of school finance are making decisions that are detrimental to the funding of our schools. This has a huge effect on 1) how much you get paid (see previous paragraph), 2) if you’ll be a “budget cut” next year (RIFs are no joke), 3) the resources you have available to you to use as you teach (yet you’re asked to prepare 21st century learners), and 4) programs that your school is able to offer students – both academic and extracurricular. Speaking of the importance of extracurriculars is probably better saved for another day.
On top of those two glaring beasts staring you in the face as a teacher – you are tasked with managing day to day lessons, grading, planning, other responsibilities (there are a lot of these), learning, pressure, stress – your plate is full. (Yet you may try to squeeze in coaching one to three sports on the side.) Sometimes it feels like the waves are right below our nose, and it’s only a matter of time before we sink.
So far, I have painted a pretty glum picture. (“Gee, thanks Megan. I wanted to be uplifted by reading your letter.”) But again, I go back to the fact that you already knew these things. But it was important that I address them because of what I’m about to say.
Teaching is hard. Teach anyway.
You’re going to be poor. Create a budget, and teach anyway.
You’re going to have students, and maybe even entire classes that are a challenge. Always keep the students’ best interest a priority. Build positive relationships with each and every one of them, and teach anyway.
You’re going to encounter parents that seem overwhelming. Keep in mind that you both want what’s best for their child, work together, and teach anyway.
You’ll have administrators that you love. And some that you don’t feel so fondly for. Find a way to make it work, and teach anyway.
You’ll have days where you feel like you did nothing right. Don’t worry. Learn from it and adjust. There’s always tomorrow. Teach anyway.
You’ll feel like the demands of learning new techniques, technologies, and standards are going to overtake your sanity. Take a deep breath. You’re dedicated to being a life-long learner. Make a plan of action. And teach anyway.
You will cry. Sometimes they are happy tears. Sometimes they are tears of frustration. Sometimes they are tears of heartbreak. You see, we teachers tend to share a heart with our kids. Just grab some Kleenex and teach anyway.
Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, talk with a veteran teacher. They’ve been there. They know. They have great advice. They have great strategies. Listen to them, take their advice, and teach anyway.
Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Be willing to take risks. You’ll know the difference between these times and the times in the previous paragraph. Find some courage to pursue your passion, and teach anyway.
You’re going to have politicians who either intentionally or unintentionally try to strip your joy for what you do. Don’t give them that control over something you are passionate about and hold dear to your heart. Yes, you should absolutely advocate for yourself, teachers need a voice! But in the same breath, if you let that negativity fester inside of you, it will turn into the true monster that it really is. Take control over your passion, over your joy. Teach anyway.
You see, it takes true grit to be a teacher. An unmatched courage and resolve to do what we love, even when faced with tough times. A resolve to provide an education to all students, regardless of zip code. A resolve to do more with less, and keep students a priority.
For all the hardships mentioned above, immerse yourself in the positivity that surrounds you every single day. Show up with a true enthusiasm for what you do, look for the positives that happen in our schools every day, choose to smile, and you know what? I bet you’ll forget from time to time all of the negatives. Yes, acknowledge the negatives exist, yes, speak up when you’re being mistreated. I will caution you this- getting caught up in the negativity is easy, but getting caught up in the positivity is a heck of a lot more enjoyable. When you show up to teach every day, it is a choice. It is a choice that positively affects the students in your classroom. Be proud to call yourself a teacher. So, do you have grit? If so, I think you’ll make a fine teacher indeed, and I wish you all the best as you begin your wonderful career. If you have grit, teach anyway.